The thing we hate most about clichés is the fact that they are so often true, especially the ones we wish were the opposite of the truth . . .

There’s an old saying that it’s easier to take a slave out of slavery than to take slavery out of the slave, or the Jewish equivalent—that it is easier to take a Jew out of exile than to take the sense of exile out of the Jew.

Understanding human psychology very well (obviously, since He created it), G‑d never left entirely in our hands the task of taking exile out of our psyches. He built certain stages into the year which take us out of our constraints by taking our self-constraints out of us.

We have kept the memory of it alive by eating matzah and bitter herbs Thousands of years ago, on the eve of leaving Egypt, a land where we had been brutally enslaved (historians, based on diaries and other records, have noted that Hitler—may his name be blotted out—deliberately copied the acts of Egyptians against the Jews), our ancestors sacrificed lambs and ate them together with matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). For generations afterwards, we continued to eat the Passover lamb together with matzah and maror, in connection with that last night in Egypt. That came to an end when the Second Temple was destroyed. Unable to bring the Passover sacrifice each year since, we have instead kept alive the memory of it by eating matzah and bitter herbs and reciting certain verses at a special festive meal, called a Seder, on Passover eve.

The entire Seder, and even the objects on the Seder plate, tell the story of our enslavement and how G‑d freed us from slavery. But there is something that seems out of place regarding the one food most associated with the Seder.

The primary reason given for the matzah eaten at the Seder is not connected to the matzah that our ancestors ate that last night in the land of their enslavement. Nor is it connected to the miraculous way we were taken out of Egypt. Instead, it’s connected to a rather strange series of events that happened after we were free, after we had already observed that first Seder in Egypt, and after the Egyptians had already given us all their jewels and expensive silver and gold vessels, begging us to leave.

We made some dough to bake for food for our journey, and then fled. Laden with the wealth of Egypt, having witnessed a year of plagues against our enemies and miracles for us, having seen Pharaoh himself come running to us in his bedclothes begging us to accept our freedom and go, we ran like frightened deer into the wilderness. Huh?

What exactly were we afraid of?And we sit down to our Seder each year, an event replete with customs designed to make us feel like kings (we eat reclining, we cover the table with beautiful vessels and silver wedding gifts saved just for that occasion), and we say:

“They baked cakes of matzah from the dough, because it had not risen. For they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay.”

In other words, the matzah we eat today commemorates 1) a cooking mishap—there was no time to let the loaves rise, so we had to bake them flat; and 2) our fear-driven haste.

It doesn’t seem to fit.

What exactly were we afraid of? And what changed between the moment Pharaoh begged us to leave immediately, with Moses replying that we would leave in the morning, in a dignified way—and the moment we grabbed some uncooked dough and ran?

The Haggadah (the text which we recite at the Seder, containing instructions for conducting the Seder as well as selected stories) begins its explanation of why we eat matzah by saying that the dough did not have time to rise before G‑d revealed Himself to us, and that is the moment at which we were truly redeemed. That is the moment when we fled.

You see, in the end it wasn’t Egypt that we were running away from. It wasn’t fear of being captured and forced to become slaves again. It was the fear of never becoming truly free. It was the fear of voluntarily trapping ourselves in slavery.

It reminds us that our freedom is a gift from G‑d We were running from ourselves.

When G‑d chose to reveal Himself, halfway between sunset and dawn, our ancestors were smart enough to realize that this revelation wasn’t permanent, and that the desire for real freedom that it aroused within them also wouldn’t last. So they ran, as fast as they could, from the temptation to avoid going forward. They took the moment of inspiration and acted on it.

And when we celebrate the Festival of Freedom each year, we eat the matzot that baked mid-flight to remind us to capitalize on the moments of inspiration that come our way, and to build them into days and months and years of genuine growth, as people and as Jews.

At the heart of it all, we eat matzah to help us internalize their divinely inspired desire to be free.

The matzah of haste was a result of G‑d’s revelation. It reminds us that our freedom is a gift from G‑d, and therefore no one—even we—can ever really take it away. When our physical selves seem trapped, even when we are suffering, even if we seem to be in slavery, we can never again be truly slaves. Because we are Jews, we belong to G‑d, and we are free.

Once a year, we relive the events which truly set us apart as a unique nation—bound to one another, and to G‑d, but not bounded by this world. Once a year, we recount the first commandments we were given, and the incredible faith and courage with which our ancestors fulfilled them. Once a year, we eat this matzah to remind us to want the freedom we’ve been given, and to take it and run with it.